A Play's Not A Play Until It's On Stage
Who said that? Wasn't it Tennessee Williams? That a play's not a play until somebody puts it up onstage. So, really, playwrights are scriptwriters, right? We write scripts, the blueprints to a play. Still, there is that funny little business about being play-wrights, and not play-writers. So maybe, just like for a shipwright a ship isn't something useful until it's launched (what's more useless than a ship on land?) in that sense we're forging plays, but they're useful until they're on stage.
But the question is, how to get it from being a script to a play? That's where I stand now in my career as a playwright. We--I--write these things not to keep in a drawer, but for people to hear and see them. I've said it once, and I'll say it again, despite so many writers being of the quiet, introspective type, there is a certain arrogance associated with the act of writing. You are saying, I have something to say, and you better darn well listen.
I am entering a stage where I'm sending my plays out to theaters. Not flooding the market, but picking and choosing theaters whose work I admire and where I'd like to see my work produced. Or where it seems like there would be a good match. And sure, I'm sending scripts to theaters that are putting out the word that they are looking for full-length and one-act plays whose work I don't know, but maybe I should know. They're saying they're looking, so they must be, right?
Still, all I keep hearing is the old model is broken, the one where playwrights send scripts to a theater and then the theater puts on the play. I don't want to address that issue right now. That's a whole nuther kettle of fish.
Right now, playwrights still have to send out scripts to theaters where they aren't known, where they don't have any relationship yet. (I was reading about Paula Vogel's career last night, and she and Molly Smith at the Arena Stage have a relationship that dates back a long way.) You have to start somewhere, and yes, I still believe that despite the obstacles that producers and artistic directors are facing today, I can't help but think that when they sit down and open an envelope there is this hope against hope that This Will Be The One.
I was just faced with sending a script out to two Very Big Deal theaters, and the question I grappled with was, What else do I put in the box besides a script? Neither theater asked for anything except a script formatted a particular way. One said a short bio could be included, but it wasn't necessary. One theater I saw (not one of the two where I just sent scripts) said send them a script and anything else we can think of that might entice them to look at my work. I think back on all the job application letters I've written over the years, trying all sorts of ploys to break through the clutter--funny, serious, straight, clever, coy--and I'm not sure what worked on any given day. In the past, some, but not all, of the best jobs I had were ones from people I already knew, or through relationships I had from making appointment after appointment with different creative people throughout Boston. I think that holds true with getting plays produced, too. But as I said, not all the time. The Provincetown Theater produced one of my plays--produced it marvelously, I might add--and no one knew me there.
This time, I questioned whether I should include a bio, but in the end, I included a short, short letter with one sentence telling them I am currently a graduate student at Boston University, and thought to myself, in the end, it's the play that's going to have to stand on its own, so let's see if it's as good as I think it is. In lieu of the theater knowing me or my work, this is all I've got right now.